No, I’m not going to confess to long bouts of schizophrenia. Besides, for a writer having other people’s voices in their heads (either as thoughts or as actual auditory hallucinations, I understand, though, thank heavens I never got the second. It would freak me out) is perfectly normal.
The difference you could say is between listening to a voice telling you to cut up the neighbors and put them in trash bags and doing it – or at least considering doing it – and listening to a voice telling you to cut up the neighbors and putting them in a trash bag and going “ooh.” Then starting a story with “That was the day I cut up the neighbors—”
The second is perfectly normal for writers, though I’ve heard of certain lost souls who don’t get these and have to do every one of them, step by step by skull sweat, with no freebies from the subconscious. Of course those people might be lying. They might think it makes them sound smarter or more important to say that they have to sweat every little detail.
It’s always unwise to take as gospel truth the word of a pack of people who lie for a living. Particularly when they’re telling you about the process by which they construct those lies. The magician always keeps some secrets, etc.
But, at any rate, it is not this peculiar problem – or ability – of writers that I wish to address. It might be freaky or neat to have several voices in you head. They might or might not be variations of you (I hope not.) BUT in the end you have them or you don’t. And if you do you learn very early on not to talk about them or people freak out.
The problem I want to talk about – which is right now hitting me with the full baseball bat with nails in it – is something we all face, arguably more so (though it’s debatable) in our present day, with present ways of living.
You know the thing about people being several persons: father, son, brother, husband, worker, etc.
Of course, to an extent this has always been so – I remember being shocked at watching my father being dressed down by his mother, as though he were about five years old, all authority gone. Because he was my father, but her son, and in a traditional society like Portugal that means currents of authority.
Every man – or woman – alive has always faced this.
It applies, too, in relation to work. You might be facing a disaster with drains at home, but when you enter the office building you’re supposed to forget about it. If it’s something really important, and if you’ve worked for the company for a long time, you might (or not) be able to get time off to deal with it, or the fact that you’re working with a quarter brain might be forgiven. For instance, my husband got time off to deal with my being in ICU with pneumonia, back when the kids were little. And Baen has put up with delays caused by my uncertain health with not a complaint. (Though occasional with prods with a sharp stick.)
To a certain extent, as I said, it always was like this.
The problem is this – since the beginning of the twentieth century – give or take twenty years – we’ve been blurring those lines some more.
It started with two things, both of them good: first the disappearance of domestic service. (Don’t want to hear it. People didn’t leave to go work in factories because factories were worse. I’ve read about the drudgery of domestic service. A lot of my mom’s friends had maids of all work, some of them as young as ten or twelve. (Mom had a daily while she was actively working. The problem was her dailies were usually sixteen or older – she dislikes the idea of child labor. [Unless it was mine, and that’s because she thought she was training me.] — She always felt sorry for these girls and would – in her spare time – make them a full wardrobe. They would then, in a highly class conscious society, “look like ladies.” Next thing you knew they were married off and mom was minus a daily. Fortunately there was a line waiting to work for her…) Heck, I’ve done it myself for a summer in Germany. While a lot of those books about Victorian “servitude” are exaggerated and aim to horrify us and make us feel soft and fuzzy about our sensitivity, the real thing was no picnic. Of course people left when another opportunity offered. For one, in factories – particularly as the century progressed – there was an opportunity for advancement, which was lacking in domestic service. Unless you married the boss, you as a servant would never become the boss.
The second good development was that people had more free time (in large part because factories made things cheaper. It makes a huge difference. All these books I’m reading from early century talk about women spending their evenings mending clothes or altering them, even well-to-do women.)
The free time gave people time to pursue what they really wanted to do – aka to have lives beyond work. A lot of these involved things that wouldn’t pay, like volunteering at church or being secretary of some club. (The vibrant club-life in America from sewing circles to the local group of the exchange student program that brought me over amazed me in the early eighties. Is it still that way? Doesn’t seem that way to me, but maybe it is I who am isolated and overworked and other people have more normal lives.) But some people started developing second careers in their free time – which in the late twentieth century often turned into a first career when the first suddenly collapsed.
The problem is that the first development created what the whipper snappers of the sixties interpreted as the domestic servitude of women. Since there were no servants, mom stayed home and did the house work. Yes, many of these women would have been maids, without the tech developments made maids obsolete, but they were living middle class lives and had no household help. So they were the household help.
This created the backlash among children who grew up with this and the idea that housework was horrible and demeaning and EVERYONE should work outside the home.
So the vast majority of people do. And housework largely goes undone – I’ve always thought that we should be able to create the machines from The Door Into Summer. We probably have the tech. The problem is that most people have got used to living in a mess. This is btw, how history/science don’t progress in a logical way. SF writers in the fifties would look at our houses and go “why didn’t they create machines to do that?” Well, first because the tech wasn’t quite there, and then because people got used to the mess and stopped seeing it – but a minimum must still be done. We still have to feed ourselves and most of us clean at least the minimum not to have vermin.
So, where there used to be division of labor, there is now one person doing two jobs. That’s at the very minimum. First, the amount of jobs that get piled on us by a society that waves “oughts” in our face are mind-boggling. Glenn Reynolds has pointed out, and I second, that being a parent these days is a ton more work than it was even when we were kids, partly because laws (which I think aim at all of us running away screaming and putting kids in daycare. And partly, I think, because we have a lot fewer kids and so are obsessed with keeping them safe) make it so. For instance, we couldn’t leave the kids alone in the house for more than two hours, until one was over 14. Both of my kids COULD be left in the house for a day or so at age ten. And they could reach me on the phone with any questions instantly. But the law wouldn’t allow it, and if something happened and a neighbor found I’d left a ten year old and a six year old alone for a day, I’d have to face Social Services.
Contrast this with my mom who would go and deal with business (she administered finances for several relatives abroad) in town for entire days by the time I was eight, and who not only expected the house still standing and me unscathed at the end of it, but who would have been very shocked had anyone suggested the other possibility. (She did have this litany she did when she went out, which she started doing for a couple of hours by the time I – and before me, my brother – was five “Don’t open the door to strangers, don’t tell anyone on the phone that you’re alone, don’t play with knives, don’t light matches. If you have any trouble, call grandma.” By the time we were ten or so, we took great delight in telling her that when WE were leaving her alone in the house.) Likewise, it was not unusual to turn vacationing kids out the door in the morning with a packed lunch, and only see them again in the evening.
Now being a parent is a nitpicky job. You’re supposed to watch them every second, in case they spontaneously combust or something, and the government stands over your shoulder to make sure you DO.
Then there are taxes. If you do anything more than the standard 9-5 (and sometimes even then) your taxes become a nightmare that consumes months. My husband does it, but I see how much work it is.
And then there’s our jobs. At least for those of us in skilled/technical professions, they’ve been taking more and more time since the early nineties. For writers this was due to our dysfunctional industry offloading a bunch of work on us, stuff they used to do: proofing became so spotty we had to either proof twice or pay proofers; publicity as expected to be on our lap. Etc.
But I see a lot of it with my husband too – let alone that since late 07 those still employed are doing three or four jobs and getting paid for one – if he wants to stay relevant and useful, he has to learn continuously. This is nobody’s fault, just a consequence of the rate of change. However learning, no matter how much you like doing it – particularly highly technical/scientific learning – requires a heck of a lot of outside-the-hours study. So there’s that.
And then, well… my family are Odds. I don’t know if other people are like this. I suspect a lot of people reading this blog are. My older son, the pre-med student writes novels and does cartooning on the side. He’s also teaching himself animation AND (at last) trying to learn Portuguese. His aerospace-engineering-student brother is cartooning, doing art and apparently modding/designing games, while teaching himself programing. He also writes, but I’m not supposed to know that. My husband writes, of course, but also composes music and creates programs-of-use-to-indie-publishers.
Then there’s me. Do I need to tell you the sad tale? This extended whine comes about because yesterday I “didn’t do anything” which means I spent the afternoon redoing the cover of Death of A Musketeer – as in drawing a cover for it, with an Icarus board and oil pastels. This is because we’re reissuing it, and taking it paper at the same time, and then hopefully in April doing The Musketeer’s Seamstress, then in May The Musketeer’s Apprentice, and in June A Death In Gascony (retitled to the original The Musketeer’s Inheritance, with a note that it was originally published under another title.) In July The Musketeer’s Servant (formerly Dying By The Sword) which needs serious edit because I was very ill when I let it out of my hands. This brings my due date to finish and bring out The Musketeer’s Confessor to August.
Coincidentally this is the same date Through Fire is due. There are also six stories I’m contracted for before May.
Yes, I can do a short story in five hours, and that means I can push it to the weekend. Unfortunately, I’m also pushing to the weekend artwork. And when it comes to the musketeers, for instance, I don’t have much choice. Until I have a substantial number up, I don’t have the money to pay an artist, and while Dreamstime has LOVELY fantasy paintings (and SF) no one draws musketeers – or at least no one does them in a style suited for mysteries. There are any number of pictures of women dressed and musketeers, children dressed as musketeers, and dogs dressed as musketeers (!) and there’s any number of anime musketeers. There just aren’t many illustrations of musketeers. I can do it (I think. I’ll run the finished product by y’all in case I’m deluding myself. If I get a ton of courage, I’ll ask Dave Mattingly if it’s horrible.) But it takes time.
At the same time I’m editing two books for indie publication and it’s work no one else can do, since it involves my internal feel for how the books should be. I’m still publishing back list short stories. I’m finishing up – but still involved in – a blog tour for AFGM. I’m still (sporadically at least) working for PJMedia, and would like to do more.
And through all this, I must still be wife, and mom and household manager. (This is not to say I don’t enjoy the first two. I do. That’s why I take time to spend with the guys.)
And then there’s the mentoring. This, like the wife/mothering is stuff I enjoy and also things I feel I SHOULD do. I got a lot of help coming up, and I’m paying it forward. But it too takes time, and I’ve been shirking it.
Those who’ve wondered why my web page is atrociously out of date, or why I forget to answer emails, now have somewhat of an idea. I’m being several people. And when Sarah D’Almeida is editing musketeers, she’s not drawing a cover for the books. Worse, when I’m being Sarah D’Almeida, I’m not writing space opera. When Sarah Hoyt is writing Space Opera, Sarah Marques isn’t writing the second vampire book. When Sarah Marques is writing the vampire book, “romance” writer Sarah Hoyt is not planning her War of The Roses series. When Sarah Hoyt is planning her War of the Roses from the distaff perspective series, she’s not writing the sequel to A Flaw In Her Magic.
And while I’m writing or doing art, publishing isn’t happening.
And when all this is going on, that course on the history of medicine sits unwatched. Worse, so does the course on Game Theory.
What to do?
Yes, I could punt back, do only the traditional publishing. Baen has a very good chance of surviving this upheaval (unless S & S crashes so spectacularly it takes Baen with it, and I don’t see that happening or not in a way Baen can’t find other distribution. Advantages of being small and nimble.)
That would mean writing books and doing blog tours, which is insane but doable. BUT…
But I am a Heinlein girl. The chances of Baen crashing are minimal, but I believe in always having an escape hatch and in always, always, always having it in my power, not someone else’s. Belt AND suspenders.
And then there’s the fans. There are fans who still send me weekly emails asking for the next musketeer mystery. What am I to do? I know the pain of unfinished series.
And there’s the books themselves. They were planned. They want to be written (as do the next three to finish the Shakespeare series. No, I’m not promising that any time soon.)
And there’s the concept of building under – more on that later.
But more than all that, there’s the fact that doing these, indie, on the side, can bring me the money to relieve the load a little. If this works out, these backlist and indie books will bring in enough to get a cleaning lady, to send clothes to the laundry service, to maybe take the one week a month away to just write, which I need (honestly) to keep on schedule.
Yes, traditional publishing brings in money too, but even though that’s growing it has well-known boundaries. The indie stuff can add to it markedly. And I can write four/six books a year. I’ve done it before.
It’s just that right now it’s a lot of insane work.
And I don’t know any way around it.
You know, it’s like all the Building Under strategy. It’s going to make you insanely overworked – let this be a warning – because you still have your regular work, and then you have another under. And you have all the other insane demands of life, still.
Don’t give up. It’s doable. You might be very tired for a few years, but it’s doable.
Things that might help are a good planner system (I don’t have this, and I desperately need it.) Scheduling and – paradoxically – taking breaks. (Try to plan these if your spouse/partner/best friend is also building under. My husband claims with some justice that I always need time at the museum/park when he’s slammed under stuff. I need to get better.) Find inexpensive amusements that DO work for you. Yes, to an extent rotating what you do provides refreshment, but not that much. For me, I like the Natural History Museum and a cheap Greek diner in Denver. It’s not happening as often as I’d like it, partly because of gas prices, but we try to do it every so often.
One thing I’m trying to learn is how to “rest in mini increments” – a walk around the block but thinking of no work. That sort of thing.
I hear exercise helps, and I need to find time somehow. It’s hard to remember we live in bodies sometimes.
And if you’re going “this just doesn’t work. I’m insanely busy.” No, that means you’re doing it right. In any building-under scheme, where you create a structure to take the load when the other collapses, you will be insanely busy. But it should be only two/three years at most and then either this will be your main occupation, or you can hire contractors to help. Hopefully.
In the meantime, de-clutter your life. You know the things you do that you neither enjoy nor help you or anyone else. And do schedule fun/stuff you love in HARD. Try a variation of the Heinlein dictum “Budget Luxuries FIRST” – I’ve found this works when we’re broke. I don’t mind eating soup two days a week, if we can go to Denver once every couple of months and molest dinos. The same seems to apply emotionally. I don’t mind working like crazy sixteen hours a day if I get an hour to cuddle my husband and watch old mysteries with him in the evening.
And good luck. This is very much a work in progress. I’m still learning how to be more than one person.